Empowering Women in Tech Conference – Wednesday 26th April 2017

Ruth Saxton

By: Ruth Saxton | Date: 12/05/2017

Lauren Laverne

As a key element of our 25th celebrations is all about moving forward and embracing digital, and a large part of my role entails working alongside our projects team to ensure digiPlaySpace is a success, last week I attended the ‘Empowering Women in Tech Conference’ at Leeds International Festival.

Anne-Marie Imafidon

First up to speak was one of our fiercest female Eureka! ambassadors and Head Stemette, Anne-Marie Imafidon. As well as exposing our shameful ignorance of female tech pioneers, she shared her five reasons to tempt young women to work in tech, the first being free swag. I was scribbling all this advice in my shiny new (FREE) notepad so I can verify that one. She also warned the more sceptical in the audience that tech IS coming, whether we like it or not, so we’d better embrace it. This is the bit I am working on; nobody wants to be the out of touch codger bemoaning the new, especially me.

Another challenge thrown down by Anne-Marie was for us all to showcase ‘herstory’, something we are mindful of at Eureka! and one of the many reasons Anne-Marie is one of our Ambassadors; we must elevate female tech role models, past and present, so young girls and women have people to aspire to be.                  

Emmy Lovell

Emmy Lovell

When Emmy Lovell: VP Digital, Warner Music took to the stage, she championed the power of music and tech: they go hand in hand. Warner have created the Firepit, which looks like something from an 80s sci-fi film; a lab filled with tech to stimulate creativity: drones, bots, AR, VR etc. There was many an audible jawdrop from the audience as she described it. The tech landscape is crowded and they want to lead the field, so they’ve taken a risk in order to give fans amazing experiences when sampling their artists’ music.

Warner also wants the people who work there to feel like a ‘tribe’…we heard that word a lot throughout the day. So they’re anonymising CVs to remove bias. There are wellness initiatives for everyone, to ensure they have happy creatives. And an ‘Innovation panel’ – so EVERYONE gets to pitch ideas for development or have their say about whatever they need: mentoring, funding, nurturing. Something I will be sharing with our management team. My final takeaway from Emmy: be smart, be determined, be bolshy, be like Kylie!

Susanna Lau aka. Susie Bubble

Susanna Lau aka. Susie Bubble

Fashion blogger Susanna Lau (aka Susie Bubble), who obviously looked flawless, again talked about working with your tribe, but also wanted to ensure there is room for all, “In this world where the key is collaboration, I hope diversity of voices carries on and continues to emerge.”

She also spoke very eloquently about the importance of voice and encouraged us to find our own. Fashion bloggers, she said, are lifestyle models: brands. But also creative: multi-tasking hybrids. Which I think applies to a lot of us. Although she sympathised that digital content can often feel, “Ubiquitous and unoriginal and a bit hollow,” she impressed on us the value of these new voices and the original content that we now have due to the tech platforms they use: it would not have existed just a few years ago. Something we are also conscious of at Eureka! as we try to share with our audience more regularly: open the doors to the chocolate factory and let them peek inside.

Debbie Wosskow OBE

Debbie Wosskow OBE

Fellow Leeds lass, Debbie Wosskow: Love Home Swap & AllBright, spoke passionately about the power of female entrepreneurs, particularly new mums, and the sharing economy, the majority of which is women. She also shared what she looks for as an investor: graft, grace and grit. Can’t argue with that! Her parting thoughts echoed Anne-Marie’s earlier, “People have got to see it to be it.” We’re trying, Debbie!

Natasha Sayce-Selem: Head of Technology at Sky, another ace Leeds lass, who was responsible for organising the conference, was really entertaining and I saw my own career (sort of) reflected in hers. I too am a ‘sidestepper’: I’ve not had a conventional career path. As someone who has recently changed professions, she reminded me, “When imposter syndrome sets in, think about what you’ve learnt rather than how far you’ve got to go.” And that people value new voices, “Being a novice has great advantages. You have the outsider’s perspective, the best management can have.” So maybe I’ll speak a little more assertively from here on in.

She too couldn’t speak highly enough about working in tech, “You get to be part of something exciting when work in digital.”

Renee Hunt spoke very briefly but was thrilled to see a queue for the ladies’ room at a tech conference: progress. And clarified that we’re actually getting women to come BACK to tech, as we were already there!!

Dr Sue Black OBE

Dr Sue Black OBE

Someone else I was excited to hear speak was Dr Sue Black, who has many strings to her bow, Techmums being one. After leaving school and having children early, at the age 25/26 she started again – evening classes and home study eventually led to a degree and then a PhD.

Sue has since been responsible for setting up the British Computer Society, helping to save Bletchley Park (Google it) and even more awesomely #Techmums. She started ensuring children were engaging with computing but then discovered that the two positive influences on children’s work were mum’s education & home environment, so targeted the mums. She also wanted to create more female/mums/role models in tech. And get rid of the offensive, “So easy your mum could do it.” Courses run for 2hrs a week for six weeks in schools. They are now working with 500 young mums across the country. And she wants a million mums by 2020. Her enthusiasm and passion was totally contagious, so I can see how she gets things done.

Another amazing woman/heroine I was really excited to listen to was Lauren Laverne: TV/Radio presenter/Co-Founder The Pool. She mostly talked about The Pool, which was actually more useful for us than you’d first think, as she really urged us to, “Know your audience,” something that our Comms Manager Sophie has spent ages getting to grips with and tuning into. As I said earlier, we are looking at ways to engage our audience further so this was useful. And like The Pool social media and our blog give us this instant access. She also reiterated that everyone has a voice on the digital landscape.

At the start of the day Anne-Marie told us to find our tribe – where you feel comfortable to learn and ask questions – something that was echoed by almost every speaker. With that room of empowered women…mission completed!  

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